by Adrián García-Esteve –

Working in the European Parliament for the last five months has been both challenging and exciting, and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to reflect on my time with the Foreign Affairs Committee (otherwise known as AFET). Looking back, I’m still surprised by how much I managed to learn and accomplish in Brussels, because while five months might sound like a good length of time, the truth is that it goes by very, very quickly.

My traineeship within the Secretariat of AFET, acronym for “Affaires étrangères”, allowed me to work with more than half a dozen members within my unit, including the Director. I covered topics across four continents and multiple regions; prepared briefings and draft reports; attended conferences, hearings, and committee sessions; worked on delegations and university trips, and met with ambassadors and politicians. These more dynamic components of the job were great complements to more technical tasks on sanctions as a foreign policy tool and the new Privacy Shield, and the long-term project on the review of the European Security Strategy and building the new Global Strategy that I worked on.

Contributing to the Global Strategy report was easily one of the best experiences I had with the EP, not only because of the political and academic demands of the project but, because I already had a passion for the subject. In my final paper as an EUPS student, I defended my research on European Union strategy in foreign affairs at the EUI Max Weber Symposium. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to bridge two rigorous and rewarding experiences with such a challenging and interesting project.

In order to make the most of your time as a stagiaire (intern) in Brussels, you have to try and hit the ground running and make sure that you take advantage of the chances to explore. I dove right in when I heard about the European Parliament Stagiaires Association Board (EPSA) elections. EPSA is almost like a sophisticated student government that works on behalf of the community of trainees. At a time when everyone was still getting acclimated-when getting lost trying to find the elevators was still a valid excuse-I decided to launch myself into a three-week campaign. The hard work and my ability to extend my reach beyond my assigned unit/office paid off, and I ended up getting elected. As president, it was my job to organize training sessions that ranged from language to cultural classes to organizing networking and post-traineeship career events with the Parliament.

Looking back, my experience in the EUPS program really gave me a leg up in Brussels: moving to a new country, with a new language, new peers and colleagues, new challenges, and new responsibilities… and if those parallels weren’t enough, I would be doing it all within a conspicuously shortened period of time on a fast-track curriculum.

Life experience aside, what I learned about in my time in Florence, the EU, the institutions, and policy makers, gave me a strong background and working knowledge of the EU that contributed to a solid foundation for my position in Brussels. My knowledge was expanded on with hands-on experience in my work as an intern and I was surprised by how much the knowledge seemed to be an exception rather than the norm. Many of the stagiaires had very little formal education on the EU, and the majority were not political science graduates but professional lawyers, accountants, journalists, or advocates. I was very lucky to have some exceptional colleagues, professionally as well as personally, and the extra confidence that came from my specialized studies at JMU helped me connect and work with older and more experienced trainees and civil servants.

Going forward, I’m still not sure whether or not my long-term plan is to stay in Europe or return to the US, but I feel confident that in the last year and a half I’ve learned enough to make opportunities on either side of the Atlantic.

This article was first published on http://www.jmu.edu/

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